Wednesday, May 7, 2008

No more teachers' dirty looks...

Students carry a lot of technology with them wherever they go, including into the classroom. Because these technologies -- such as iPods, computers, cell phones -- can serve as distractions from what is instructionally happening in the classroom, many faculty are requiring that students turn everything off at the start of class. What a loss! Instead, my suggestion is to find ways to use students' technology in ways that serve the objectives of the class. Here are a few ideas (Note: I suggest you have students in small groups, so that there is the potential for a more balanced distribution of technology...because, even though it may feel like it, not all students are carrying technology):
  • In small groups, have students answer a set of challenging questions (or complete a scavenger hunt), allowing them to use their computers (to look things up via static sites, or by accessing an online community of practice) and cell phones (to phone a friend).

  • In small groups, have students use their technology to locate the most unique response to a question, or a current news item that is related to the topic.

  • Set up an IM address for the course. Periodically, ask student groups a question and have them IM their response to your IM address. Report out what groups are sharing.

  • Set up an IM address for the course, and have it on during all classes to enable students to ask questions during lectures.

  • Set up a wiki for the topic being covered in class (or throughout the week, depending on the course schedule). Explain to students that the group will collaboratively create a summary of the topic at hand. A few times during the class session, have student groups access the wiki and update it to reflect what has been covered and discussed so far. By the end of the class session, the wiki can serve as a collaboratively developed set of class notes (for the lecture, discussion, lab, and/or activity/project).

  • Create short podcasts (or locate relevant, pre-existing podcasts) related to the topic at hand. Have students download the podcasts to their iPods or computers prior to class. In class, present students with an activity (e.g., a case study) that requires them to access a variety of online resources, including one or more of the podcasts you created or made available.

  • In small groups, have students search their iPods for a song that lyrically reflects what the class is covering, and prepare to share the song and their rationale for how it is related to the current class topic.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Wikipedia, friend or foe

I have recently found that some of my faculty colleagues are leery of allowing students to include Wikipedia references in their papers. I don't blame them. Some of the content in Wikipedia is well established and supported, some content isn't. Sometimes students don't know the difference...or, more accurately, how to determine the difference. And, it is important for them to learn how to determine the difference because we are getting more and more of our content via online sources. So, instead of not allowing students to reference Wikipedia:
  • Allow students to reference Wikipedia as long as they can find two non-Wikipedia sources to support the Wikipedia reference

  • Have students find -- and support with other resources -- the problems with a Wikipedia reference (sort of a WikipediaBusters activity)

  • Have students figure out the biases implied in a Wikipedia entry (e.g., was the entry written by a man, or a Democrat, or someone living in the United States, or someone who doesn't like cats, and so on), and then rewriting the entry to (1) minimize the bias, or (2) reflect an alternative perspective

  • Have students fix a Wikipedia entry, after all an expectation of the Wikipedia community is that participants contribute

I like Wikipedia, and think it can be a great first step in students' writing/research long as they know that anything they read on the Web (or in print, for that matter) is mediated by the author's perspective and biases, and may or may not be accurate. I think activities, like those listed above, can help reinforce this, and also reinforce that they are eligible contributors to community resources, such as Wikipedia.